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The Freedom of Music: Frampton’s Guitar Comes Alive

April 15th, 2012


One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

Guitarists and their guitars. It can be a special bond. One guitar can be such a perfect fit, so in tune with it’s player, that a guitar player who can afford, and owns hundreds of the instruments, can spend years using mainly one.sidebar-7

In his book, One Train Later, Andy Summers tells how a student came to a lesson when he was teaching in LA in 1974, and offered to sell him an old ’61 Fender telecaster. Disinterested, Summers strummed it a few times and “something stirs within” him. He takes the guitar home with him, spends a few hours with it, and finds he can’t put it down, can’t stop playing. A failed musician who had lost the desire to play, he was playing with Tim Rose within’ a few weeks. The guitar that sparks something within’ him, the ’61 Fender telecaster with the stratocaster neck and the Gibson pickup, rewired with an overdrive unit built in the body of the guitar would carry him through his career with The Police, ending in 1984, and beyond.

Andy Summers was a one guitar guy for the highest point in his career, as was Peter Frampton. Frampton was playing lead guitar with Steve Marriot’s Humble Pie in 1970 when he borrowed a 1954 Les Paul Custom with triple humbucker pickups for a show. He would later say of the guitar:

I used it for both sets and my feet didn’t touch the ground. This is the best guitar I have ever played.

After the show he tried to buy the guitar from it’s owner, but it wasn’t for sale: he gave the guitar to Frampton instead.

Frampton’s 1954 Les Paul is now iconic, having been used in the remaining Humble Pie albums, including Rockin the Fillmore, and all of Frampton’s solo albums until 1980. It is the guitar Frampton is playing on the cover of his multi-million selling Frampton Comes Alive! and, of course, the guitar Frampton plays throughout the album. Have a favourite Peter Frampton song? Chances are he played it on that ’54.

In 1980 it was aboard a cargo plane that crashed in Venezuela. There we no survivors, including, presumably, the guitar. Burnt, beaten and battered, the fine Mahogany instrument would have made great fuel in a burning wreckage and, as far as anybody knew, that was it’s fate.

It didn’t die a fiery death, however, and a couple of years ago a Dutch Frampton fanatic (who will never again want for Frampton tickets or, presumably, have to pay for them) and a Curacaon customs agent that moonlights as a guitar repair man, began investigating (based on what information did they decide to investigate, I have no idea). Late last year they found the guitar, which had been salvaged and sold to a musician in Curacao.

On February 18th Peter Frampton stepped onstage at New York’s famous Beacon Theater with his black ’54 Les Paul for the first time in more than 30 years. A musician and his guitar, reunited after all these years.

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